Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Carol Potter's "Otherwise Obedient"

This title poem from Carol Potter's book by the same name (Red Hen Press, 2005) weighs the worth of involvement versus solitude. It’s a subtle movement into memory, taking the sensory route: smells, sounds, bodily sensation, the way habit becomes part of living. It uses what is external (acorns dropping, snuffling animals, the wild horse) to signify what’s inside (pensiveness, solitude, silence). The subtlety allows the reader to interpret what is obvious to her: the memory of wild things that are no more, the old pain more lively than life.

We should keep them close,
even if they’re too close sometimes.

The separation has a double edge. The pain might be worthwhile. It’s a slant of the adage “Can’t live with them, can’t live without them.“ Living without becomes recollection and the recollection is all that remains of the thing that couldn’t be domesticated. In the recollection, the speaker (or reader) recognizes that the buried horse was not obedient in the way one would want - or was it?

The poem looks at the duality of engagement, now from a distant place and time. Punctuated lines (blank verse?) reflect jumping thoughts, the way memory moves haphazardly sometimes, producing objectified images like blips on a screen. Memory is also that small animal, rummaging for life, persistent in its hunger.

It’s digging them out of the ground now.
Sucking the hives empty.

Finally, the wildness that made for separation is recognized for its worth. The disobedience becomes a kind of freedom, a need, a realization:

Sometimes you want a back you could climb up on.
Four hooves that could carry you out of here.

“Otherwise Obedient” is successful for presenting personal intensity with cloaked devices (substitution and subtlety), for not relying on that first person voice. It allows the reader into the poem and reminds me of Mary Oliver in this way. Yet it is so clearly the voice of Carol Potter.

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